UN Chief Ban: Israelis and Palestinians Need Two States Before It Is Too Late

After so many years of setbacks, we must spare no effort to bring the sides back to meaningful negotiations.

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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visits a Hamas tunnel on the Israeli side of the Gaza border.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visits a Hamas tunnel on the Israeli side of the Gaza border. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit
Ban Ki-moon
Ban Ki-moon

In recent years, my visits to Israel and Palestine have been undertaken on an emergency basis. I have just returned from another such crisis mission.

I arrived in the region with a clear goal: To support collective efforts to stop the violence, reduce tensions and reestablish a political horizon that can lead to lasting peace.

I saw firsthand how the upsurge in violence has touched the full spectrum of society: Israelis and Palestinians, men and women, young and old. It has created widows and orphans, and extinguished the dreams of too many at the outset of their lives.

There should be no need to convince Israelis and Palestinians that peace is better than perpetual violence and occupation, or that the two-state solution is the preferred formula for resolving the conflict. The main challenge is that, on both sides, people see a widening gap between the vision of a two-state solution and the realities of today.

Mistrust is deep, settlements and outposts are expanding, civilians are living under daily threats of attack, the stifling occupation will soon enter its 50th year, and the region is growing more volatile. Meanwhile, an entire generation has grown up since Oslo that has known only squandered dreams and failed leadership.

The longer the grievances remain unaddressed, the harder it will be to control the passions that continue to rage. It would be irresponsible to stand by and expect better conditions to magically emerge. It would be misguided to think that pursuing a policy of temporary quiet will ever lead to lasting peace.

After so many years of setbacks, we must spare no effort to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to meaningful negotiations. Of course, it is up to the parties to make the difficult compromises that any two-state agreement will require. At the same time, finding a just and lasting solution is also integral to greater regional and global stability. The world has a profound stake and must provide the critical incentives, support and pressure to encourage the parties to follow the path to peace.

Rebuilding trust

First, we must rebuild trust and encourage bold and significant measures on the ground that will tangibly improve lives and irreversibly move toward the end of occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Second, we need to engage the region constructively, as the neighbors of Israel and Palestine stand to benefit most from peace and have an important role in sustaining it.

Third, we need to establish the appropriate international infrastructure, through the United Nations and the Quartet, that supports and encourages negotiations and a comprehensive and just resolution of the conflict.

Despite today’s uncertainties, the two-state solution can and must prevail. The vision of two states reflects the recognition that there are two peoples with an unbreakable bond to this land, and that both have a right to self-determination within it. I trust that Palestinian and Israeli leaders share this vision.

The United Nations and I, as its secretary-general, remain committed to the security of Israel and the realization of a viable, independent Palestinian state living beside it in peace and security. It is time to finally move from emergency and crisis to the dignified, hopeful future Israelis and Palestinians demand and deserve.

The writer is secretary-general of the United Nations.